Review: Tahoe-based mystery novel ‘Ears for Murder’ fails to hit all the right notes
April 17, 2018
Sue Owens Wright's fifth installment in her Beanie & Cruiser Series is your average body-turns-up-in-the-woods mystery.
When writer and crime solver Elsie MacBean embarks on a walk through the forest in South Lake Tahoe with her dog, Cruiser, and Calamity, the basset hound she's babysitting, she runs into the corpse of a lumberjack and suspects foul play. As more bodies turn up in similar circumstances, MacBean and the dogs set off to track down the person behind the attacks. You know the drill.
It's a plot executed in a style reminiscent of James Dashner, the "Maze Runner" author who thrives on two-page-long chapters — a technique that takes away power from any potential cliffhangers, as everything seems rushed.
Offset with political commentary on the South Shore environment and a random romance, the hunt for the murderer is often shunted aside as the story focuses on irrelevant, minor details that make the plot somewhat chaotic — especially at the start of the book, when well-crafted exposition should be most important.
"Ears for Murder" is filled with corny humor — it's possible certain characters were given their names for the sole purpose of Wright getting to make puns — and it's unclear whether the proper reaction is to chuckle or cringe. It's a trait that resurfaces throughout the book; many things come off as one-dimensional and flat, as if the writing process was a direct metaphor for the pace of the mystery itself.
The plot moves quickly, so don't expect to get a strong sense of who the characters are — especially if you haven't read the first four installments in the series. While minimal references are made to MacBean's past cases, one would likely have a better understanding of the heroine and her motivations in this lumberjack-focused case after reading its predecessors.
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Despite the jumbled storyline (why does Wright keep addressing MacBean's dog-feeding routine?), the last fifth of the book is action-packed and attention-grabbing. Even though any mystery reader with relatively keen insight will know who the culprit is before the story reaches its climax, it's still enjoyable to see how Wright ends the narrative.
You won't be challenged by this read, but it's possible to get lost in it for a few hours before the crime-solving comes to an abrupt end. Subject matter lies somewhere between young adult and adult, but the story is written at an elementary school level — it's a breeze for avid readers to get through, but the plot itself leaves much to be desired.
"Ears for Murder" isn't bad, but it also isn't great. With a title like that, it certainly could've been better. The book is available for purchase online via Amazon. Learn more about Wright's other works at http://www.sueowenswright.com.